Synod approves “relatio synodi”: Remarried divorcees remain a controversial topic

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The paragraph of the text which outlines the differing opinions regarding the readmission of remarried divorcees to the sacraments obtained 104 votes in favour and 74 against. The paragraph on homosexuality has been modified after 118 Synod Fathers voted in favour and 62 against, despite the fact it makes reference to the Catechism. These points did not therefore receive the unanimous consensus of the Synod: An absolute majority was obtained but not a qualifying majority.

This afternoon, the Synod fathers voted on and approved the relatio synodi, the final document of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family convened by Pope Francis. As per Francis’ request, the discussions were very free and there was a genuine exchange of opinions on the problems at hand. No set paths were followed and there was no maneuvering.

Each single paragraph in the text was voted on: bishops and other members of the Synod expressed their opinion on each of the 62 points set out in the document. The process took place via electronic voting which offered only two options: placet or non placet. A two thirds majority was needed in order for the text to be approved. The most debated paragraph was the one on remarried divorcees, which presented two opposing arguments and obtained a two thirds majority: 104 voted for and 74 against. Similarly, 118 voted in favour of the paragraph that deals with homosexuality and 62 against.

The Pope decided to publish the text in its entirety and to give journalists a breakdown of the votes cast on each paragraph, in order to give a clear picture of the debate, and the extent to which the Synod fathers agreed or disagreed with the contents of each paragraph. One paragraph, obtained two thirds of the vote (155 versus 19). It reads: “The situations remarried divorcees are faced with also require careful reflection and respectful accompaniment, avoiding the kind of language and attitudes that may make them feel discriminated against. They must be encouraged to participate in Church life. Caring for these people does not weaken the faith of Catholic communities nor their belief in the indissolubility of marriage. In fact by providing this kind of care such they perform an act of charity.”

The paragraph which follows is the most debated one in the document (104 voted for and 74 against) and it refers to the possibility of allowing remarried divorcees access to the sacraments: “The Synod reflected on the possibility of granting remarried divorcees access to the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. A number of Synod fathers expressed themselves in favour of the rules currently in force on the basis of the link between participation in the Eucharist and communion with the Church and its teaching regarding the indissolubility of marriage. Others expressed themselves in favour of welcoming remarried divorcees to the Eucharist in certain specific situations and under very precise conditions, particularly when dealing with irreversible cases or cases which involve moral obligations toward children who would suffer unjustly otherwise. Access to the sacraments should be preceded by a period of penance, under the guidance of the diocesan bishop. The question requires in-depth consideration, whilst being aware of the distinction between an objective situation of sin and mitigating circumstances. This is given that “Imputability and responsibility for an action can be diminished or even nullified by ignorance, inadvertence, duress, fear, habit, inordinate attachments, and other psychological or social factors” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1735).”

Finally, the paragraph on homosexuality, which obtained an absolute majority but not the qualifying two thirds vote, reads as such: “Some families may comprise members who are attracted to members of the same sex. The Synod has reflected on the kind of pastoral care that should be provided to people who find themselves in this situation, bearing the teaching of the Church in mind: "There is no basis whatsoever to assimilate or to draw even remote analogies between same-sex unions and the plan of God for marriage and the family. Nevertheless, men and women with homosexual tendencies must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. [However], in their regard should be avoided every sign of unjust discrimination” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith).” In order to appreciate just how sensitive this topic is, it is important to note that not even a paragraph which essentially repeats what the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a former Holy Office text say, obtained the qualifying two thirds vote.

So there are some controversial issues here, which did not obtain the two thirds majority and cannot therefore be considered as Synodal proposals. However, as the text is still only a working document, which local Churches will be discussing next year, Francis decided to publish everything. It is also significant that an absolute majority showed a willingness to examine issues further and continue discussions.

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By Andrea Tornielli